I hopped onto Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman books pretty quick. The book was so good that I sought out more of Snyder’s work, which at the time included Swamp Thing, which at the time was in the middle of a crossover called Rotworld with Animal Man, by Jeff Lemire.
So anyway, I started reading Jeff Lemire’s Animal man. And boy am I glad I got on that business.
I knew a thing or two about Animal Man before going into Lemire’s work. Specifically, I knew two things:
1. Grant Morrison wrote Animal Man once
2. Animal Man broke the fourth wall once
So Animal Man wasn’t exactly a hard sale for me, despite my having pretty much no idea who or what Animal Man was. Turns out Animal Man is pretty self-explanatory: Buddy Baker is a man who can channel the powers of animals. You know, like in the name.
But Jeff Lemire’s time with the character focused on much more than that. Lemire’s Animal Man run was about life at both its grandest and most personal. Buddy Baker’s story finds him trying his best to serve as both the Avatar of The Red (the force binding all animal life) and a father of two and husband. Lemire’s 29 issue run was a study in the convergence of those two duties and brilliantly examined the yin and yang of the life before our eyes and the life far beyond our senses.
Baker wears two hats, one is the protector of every breathing organism on Earth and another as a member of a family of four that undoubtedly make up less than .01% of that life on Earth. And despite the overwhelming disparity between the scope of those two responsibilities Baker handles them both with equal care.
In a sense it’s a struggle in juxtaposition that, to some extent, we each face every day. Is the world before our eyes more important than the world as a whole? We live in an information age that has effectively made each of us a member of a larger world. You know, like the end of Iron Man. While we each have our own personal struggles (like Baker’s family), we can’t reasonably claim ignorance of global struggles beyond our front doors that often times are far greater than anything we would otherwise face (like Brother Blood and his man/animal splinter people).
How does one weigh personal turmoil against global turmoil? How does one try to help the less fortunate when they have their own personal responsibilities to contend with? How does one worry about the ever-imposing Avatar of the Rot when their child is in danger?
It’s a contemporary dilemma: do you help as many people as you can or do you help the people in front of you as much as you can?
In Animal Man, Lemire doesn’t provide an answer to that dilemma, but he gives us Buddy Baker – a man who tries his best to grapple with it.
Life can be grotesque and beautiful and heartbreaking and uplifting and in telling the story of some dude with animal powers Lemire has captured each of those facets in an engaging, imaginative story.
I mean, Buddy never turned into a shark or a T-Rex, but still, it was good.
Side note: For those of you craving more Animal Man, don’t fret, Buddy Baker is going to be back this month as part of the Justice League Unlimited, also written by Jeff Lemire. Readers may have noticed a story thread left dangling from Lemire’s Animal Man and I’m willing to bet it’ll pop up in Unlimited. Keep an eye out.
1. We’re all denizens of a planet and a community, but which takes priority?
2. What animal do you wish Animal Man turned into? And don’t say shark or T-Rex, because I already said that.
3. How much of Animal Man’s appeal can be attributed to the fact that his name is Buddy?
Some other thoughts on some other DC comic books: